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David J. Phillip, Associated Press
United States' LaShawn Merritt celebrates winning the gold in the men's 400-meter race.

BEIJING — The United States won't leave the Olympic Games without a diving medal after all. David Neville's bronze on the track came with a high degree of difficulty.

In Thursday night's 400-meter final, he saw other runners out of the corner of his eye and made a hasty decision — dive.

"I did it because it was the only thing I could think to do in the second," he said.

Neville tumbled across the line, finishing third behind LaShawn Merritt and Jeremy Wariner, for a second successive American sweep of the 400.

"God might have pushed me over," said Neville, a devout Christian who works in youth ministry in Valencia, Calif.

Neville, 24, a native of Merrillville, Ind., became the first individual track and field medalist out of Indiana University since Willie May won silver in the 110-meter hurdles in 1960.

Americans have now swept the 400 at five Olympics: 1904, 1968, 1988, 2004 and 2008.

Merritt's time was 43.75 seconds, a personal best. His .99 margin over Wariner (44.74) represented the biggest margin at the Olympics in the 400 meters since 1896, the first modern Olympics.

Wariner, the defending gold medalist and two-time world champion, was barely ahead of Neville's 44.80. Neville led at 300 meters, just as he had at the U.S. trials June 30.

The dive kept him in front of the Bahamas' Christopher Brown, who was fourth in 44.84.

"Sometimes we have to sacrifice our body and our mind and our spirit for what we really want," Neville said.

He said he had dived only one other time, securing a silver medal for Team USA in the 2007 Pan American Games. The surface was wet at Sao Paulo, Brazil, just as it was in Beijing.

Medical attendants brought a stretcher to Neville to help him off the track, but he declined.

"Sometimes you have to sit there and take in the moment and live with the pain. That's what I did," Neville said.

He conceded the victory lap might have been more grueling than the race. He repeatedly stopped and crouched, wrapped in an American flag, before slowly making his way around the National Stadium oval.

He had hugs for his wife, Arial, and parents, who came down to the rail to celebrate. His father and grandfather — David Neville and David Neville II — were also college track athletes.

David Neville III was first coached by his father. The father coached the son long-distance in 2003, when Neville was not eligible as an IU freshman but trained on his own. Neville won a silver medal in the 200 meters at the junior Pan Ams behind a 16-year-old named Usain Bolt.

Although he couldn't run for the Hoosiers that year, he represented the school as a percussionist in the marching band. Music might have come more naturally than track. Neville's mother, Judith, has a master's degree in piano performance.

He graduated with a music degree in 2007, then relocated to the Los Angeles area to be coached by John Smith, whose proteges have included Olympian champions Steve Lewis (400 in 1988) and Maurice Green (100 in 2000).

Neville is unusual in that the three fastest races of his career have all come in the far outside lane, where the runner can't see any of his opponents. He was in lane 8 in the U.S. trials at Eugene, Ore., and in lane 9 in Beijing.

Neville said he just ran scared.

"I didn't look behind, I didn't look back, and I just kept my eye focused on the prize that was ahead," he said. "That's why I have a medal around my neck right now."

He might add to his collection in the 4x400 relay. That race's semifinals are Friday and the final Saturday.